While interacting in society, there are certain standards, unspoken rules, expectations, manners etc…. that we tend to use as guidelines in our interactions. Many of these “rules” are designed to maintain fairness, and to create consideration of others—typically things such as holding doors open, waiting for your turn, and stepping aside/ not blocking the way for other people. However, I occasionally witness situations where people are so focused on their own selves, and what graces they feel they are entitled to…that they overlook factors that should result in bending those “rules” in favor of consideration of the circumstances of others. Today was a prime example of such a situation.
I was stuck in the dreaded post office line. There were at least a dozen people ahead of me, and only two employees were providing assistance….so the line was very slow-going. Shortly after I joined the line, an elderly woman with a cane claimed the position behind me, and then was followed by a man who appeared to be in his thirties. The woman found a form that she needed, and while we were waiting in line, she used the counter next to us to fill-out her form. The man started to make irritated expressions and poses, and then progressed to verbal complaints aimed at the woman. He expressed to her that she should have filled-out her form before getting in line, and that it was not fair to him and others. He displayed his own package, and proclaimed that he had filled everything at home, so he should be in front of her. The woman was clearly shocked that the man was complaining to her, and explained to him, “I would have, but I did not have the needed form at home (and she did have several envelopes that were already addressed and stamped)”.
The explanation the woman provided did not quiet the man. He retorted back in a condescending tone, telling her ( unreasonably) that she should have picked-up forms to have at home in advance. He then proceeded to talk about how inconsiderate she was, and that it was not fair that she was in line. The poor woman was clearly baffled and not even sure what to say, and finally just asked him, ” Are you from New York or something?”.
The young man smiled, and with a patronizing voice and attitude said, “No, I come from a place where people are nice, and considerate of others, and actually have good manners.”
I normally keep quiet. I typically do not like to rock boats, or get in the middle of things with strangers, but the poor woman was being bullied…so I spoke-up. “Well, stating something like that does the opposite of demonstrating those things.” I knew as it came out that it was “snarky”, but at the same time felt it was a truth. The elderly woman chuckled, then gave me a big relieved smile. However, the man did not stop. He chose to again complain to her, and tell her that she should let him go ahead of her ( despite the fact that she was done filling-out her form).
Ignoring the man, I turned to the woman, and asked her if she would like to go ahead of me. The woman shuffled in front me, and then reached-out and gave my hand a squeeze in a silent thank-you ( despite the fact I had been coughing and blowing my nose throughout it all). I kept my back turned to that man, and did not say another word to him (I had no desire to get involved in an actual confrontation). I considered my body to be a barrier between him and his target…..because he would have continued to harass her had she remained right in front of him.
The woman was elderly. Her cane, her hunched posture, slow movements etc… indicated that she was not in good health, and that it likely was a strain for her to have to stand for a long period. The line was slow, and filling-out the form while she waited was not holding anything up. That man chose to ignore all of those factors, and was mean to someone (an elder he should have respected, no less), all because he felt he was being denied something that was his due—a minute less of having to stand in line. He truly thought that he was in the right, and that the much older woman needed to be educated on manners. In reality he just was using bully tactics to try to get her to feel guilty, and give-up her place to him. He was the one who should have been considerate of her needs—those factors should have trumped any “rules” regarding who should have been next in line.
It is always good to be polite and respectful of others. We should wait our turns, but are also within reasonable rights to remind someone (that we see cut into a line) that we were ahead of them….but there are always exceptions. We should be aware of others who have needs greater than ours, and shift our expectations accordingly. Letting someone who is handicapped go before us, pausing in our cars to let someone standing in the rain to reach somewhere warm and dry……standing up to give a seat to someone elderly, pregnant, or holding a young child….all are examples of little gestures and sacrifices that cost us so little (often only a few seconds), and yet are the very things that make such a difference to what other people experience, and help to maintain our humanity towards one another. We cannot always expect to “have our due”. We live in a world with others, and at some point we ourselves will have circumstances where it will make all the difference for us if someone forgoes “what is due to them”. It truly can come down to, “do unto others”…..and the ability to put ourselves into the shoes of others, and be aware of their circumstances (even if we ourselves have good health, and have many years yet until we experience the physical strains of advanced age).
I recognize that most who read this will not struggle with grasping this concept, but given what I witnessed today (and on other occasions), there are clearly those who do not understand. It just upsets me to see people treated poorly, or bullied in any way. I hope that I was able to at least counter some of what that man did/ said to that woman, and restored some faith that considerate people still exist.
Love one another.